For some of you fellow history buffs, here’s some dates for you.
On this date, in 1789, Thomas Jefferson was appointed the first Secretary of State of the United States of America.
In 1890, the United States stops minting $1.00 & $3.00 gold coin and the 3 cent piece (maybe because of my great-great grandfather, Brandy Jack and his early counterfeiting, who knows…).
In 1892, the first public appearance of John Philip Sousa’s band and a lot of stuff happened on September 26th during the years prior and during World War II. There’s way too much to type.
In 1961, Roger Maris hit his 60th home run off Jack Fisher, tying Babe Ruth’s record (Coincidentally, Maris would not hit his 61st home run until October 1, 1961, off fellow Appalachian and Coeburn, VA native, Tracy Stallard ).
In 1962, “The Beverly Hillbillies” debuted on CBS to be followed two years later by “Gilligan’s Island” (and things were going pretty good until those two show debuted two years apart from each other). Television has not quite recovered and neither has society or Appalachia for that matter.
In 1965, Queen Elizabeth decorated the Beatles with Order of the British Empire and on that same day, in Kingsport, Tennessee, at Holston Valley Hospital, I showed up.
While world history has went along “smoothly” since then, I can’t say the same about my own personal history. I’ve had my ups and my downs. Fifty-two years later, I’m mixed in my feelings as to how I should look at “The Big 52”.
In 1965, I came into the world crying. Today, I still am crying (sort of), but pretty mixed in my emotions of this fifty-two year journey. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Turned left when I should have turned right. Said a lot of things I regret, treated some people badly when I should have been more respectful and compassionate. I’ve stayed with things when I should have walked away. I walked away from things when I should have stayed with them.
All in all, fifty-two years has been a learning experience; about me, about the world around me and how I view the world.
In the beginning, Appalachia was my playground. The woods around my childhood home were my playmates, since I grew up as an only child. Cartoons, comic books and television was my escape passage to another world outside of Appalachia. A world where an odd shaped tree limb was my phaser as I defended the galaxy as Captain Kirk.
Then I would cast off the phaser and try to fly like Superman. My take offs were good, but I just didn’t quite have the flying thing down except to the ground.
Later, it would be to the astronaut’s helmet and a go for launch at T-minus 10 seconds and counting, only to never launch and splashdown in the woods after the cement mixer kicked out of gear and threw me into the abyss and sprained my ankle.
As I grew out of my younger years, it was high school, Friday nights, making music on the football field and in the stands as a member of one of the region’s most respected and upstart high school bands, chasing the girls, admiring a lot of them from the distance because I just didn’t feel I could compete with the others out there.
By my senior year, I fell in love with writing and design, became the assistant editor of the school newspaper when I could have been the editor but I voted for the other person instead of voting for myself. Then came college, working in radio, the local newspaper and falling for the most beautiful dark haired, brown-eyed beauty of a woman from up a holler on the South Fork of Pound. As you can imagine, we got married.
I met new friends in college and at work, some I became extremely close to and others, well we just sort of drifted apart. I had a college English professor tell me that I couldn’t write, shouldn’t write and that if journalism or writing was my dream, to give up on it and quit now while the getting was good. I graduated and thought my calling was broadcasting and media. Before long, the radio broadcasting world had been seduced by the evil of automation. During all of this, I became the father of a son. It was then I decided to go into a different field of work; education and teaching.
At first, it seemed like the perfect match, then I learned my way of thinking and teaching doesn’t jibe with the establishment.
Then came a series of events that shook me deep. My mom having a stroke then dying almost three and a half years later, moving away from home to live in Henry County, Virginia for six months while I was teaching at a local high school, coming back home, teaching locally, then my dad having a stroke some three years after that.
After all of that, my wife decided to go back to college to become a teacher in her mid-40’s when she discovered a lump in her left breast. She had breast cancer.
Surgery, six months or more of chemo, a month of radiation and a year of IV treatments cured her. All of this while revisiting a part of my life that I thought I had left in high school, marching band, as I helped my band director from high school in bringing back pride in music and marching.
It was the grind of trying to balance life, work, being a husband, father, son and so much to other people, here I was, after all of this, and still looking for my calling. But wait the history doesn’t end there. A broken left ankle (my first broken bone at 50! YAY! Not! ), my dad suffering two heart attacks, a surgery for a hematoma on his brain, all in the same year left me wondering as to what was coming next.
But here I am, fifty-two, barely walking (OK, a little exaggeration for illustrative purposes) and still looking for that dream or calling in this world of Appalachia. There’s been many times that I’ve come close to giving up and throwing in the towel.
I’ve come close in the past few years of breaking through with that dream, only to have it snatched away. There’s been times I knew I could do the job, applied and then never get the call.
Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s the gray in my temples and the salt and pepper look through the rest of my hair. Maybe it’s all the mistakes I’ve made before coming back to haunt me and extract revenge on me for my achievements along the way. I’ve prayed, cursed, cried and erupted into a flood of emotions that I’m sure would be a psychiatrist’s dream to explore or a bore to listen to.
I’ve tried “reinventing” myself. I started a blog, revisited my journalism career by working part-time for the local newspaper and thoroughly enjoyed cultivating a friendship that led to covering events like NASCAR and NHRA races.
I even got to drive a Chevrolet Camaro RS down the strip at Thunder Valley with my foot to the floor, not worrying about hearing sirens or the screams of that dark haired, brown eyed beauty telling me to slow down or stop. That’s called freedom, baby.
I co-host a podcast about Appalachian history, I’ve been speaking about my relatives to groups and sharing historical perspective while reconnecting with my Appalachian heritage. I’ve met a lot of interesting people along the way and reconnected with several as well.
Did I say I haven’t found my calling yet? Maybe I have, it just hasn’t shown in the old pocketbook or in the emotional satisfaction bank.
And honestly, it may never make an appearance.
I’ve not been the best son or best example of a human being put on the planet Earth. I’m far from being the perfect husband and father. I sometimes let my emotions and my mouth get me in trouble or my anger and disposition harm rather help or understand.
I do know one thing; I’m dedicated to what I do and I’m passionate in my beliefs and I’ve learned a lot in 52 years. I still have a lot to learn.
So here’s to chasing that elusive dream in Appalachia or where ever it may call me, that I may or may not realize. The ride has been an interesting, emotional roller coaster ride for 52 years.
We’ll see what happens next.